SIX fishers caught casting a line at a designated Central Coast dive site could have faced time in prison or more than $20,000 in fines. Instead, fisheries officers were happy to catch and release the group with warnings and smaller penalties.
NSW Department of Primary Industries issued a warning on Thursday, urging anglers to check they are following the rules after the men were apprehended.
Fisheries officers caught the six men fishing in the HMAS Adelaide Reserve, around the sunken wreck of the same name, which is off limits to anglers.
NSW Department of Primary Industries acting director fisheries compliance Dr Andrew Moriarty said officers had noted a rise in reports of illegal fishing in the area.
He said the six men were caught as officers acted on information from the public supplied on April 23.
No species of fish can be caught by any means at any time within the reserve's boundaries.
"Fishing is prohibited within the Ex-HMAS Adelaide Reserve as it is a designated dive site," Dr Moriarty said. "Offences are punishable by a fine of up to $22,000 or six months imprisonment, or both."
The men received penalty notices, with five written cautions also issued for offences allegedly committed within the wreck reserve.
The fines included a total of $2700 for prohibited sized fish, which carries the stiff penalties.
Dr Moriarty said non-professional fishing had been ramping up since coronavirus pandemic restrictions had lifted on the activity, which was classified as exercise during even the state's strictest rules. He said it was vital the state resource was policed.
"With an increase in recreational fishing activities, fisheries officers are targeting unlawful and illegal recreational fishing and continue to patrol NSW waterways whilst COVID-19 restrictions across the community are in place," Dr Moriarty said.
"These fishing restrictions are in place to protect all water users competing for space.
"There are plenty of places to wet a line in NSW, including a designated offshore artificial reef, located at Newcastle.
"All fishing regulations are in place to protect and conserve our fish stocks and aquatic habitats to ensure that fishing activities remain sustainable."
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